Poverty as a stigma: How those affected defend themselves against having to be ashamed of their poverty

Poverty is invisible, being made invisible. Those affected are now drawing attention to themselves on Twitter.Image: SVEN SIMON / Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON

Annika Danielmeier

Poverty is a fight against shame, prejudice, self-doubt, existential fears, worries, pressure, contempt, humiliation, discrimination: This is how a user on Twitter describes it. And she is not the only one who is now publicly speaking about her own poverty. Under the hashtag #I’m poor, people these days not only tell that they are poor, but also why. Some even have a photo of themselves.

Poverty is often largely invisible in Germany. Now the topic is a little bit more in focus than usual. Under the Twitter hashtag, those affected encourage each other.

Poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge believes that the fact that large numbers of people speak out publicly is a good thing and a step forward. “Because in a rich country, where they are seen as refusers and losers, poor people usually hide,” he says in an interview with watson. Now those affected would see: They are not alone.

Professor Christoph Butterwegge researches poverty and wealth.

Professor Christoph Butterwegge researches poverty and wealth.Image: www.imago-images.de / Christoph Hardt

Those affected report illnesses

Many people write on Twitter that they are affected by mental and health illnesses. Some also associate their health with poverty.

Of course, Butterwegge does not know the people and stories behind the tweets. For watson, however, he gave an assessment of where the numerous reports from those affected by poverty about mental illnesses could come from.

He estimates that in some cases cause and effect could be reversed. Because it is often the case that poverty does not follow illness, but vice versa.

“I suspect that some of them didn’t become poor because they had mental health problems or health problems, but because they were poor they got health and mental health problems.”

Prof. Dr. Christopher Butterwegge

The cliché of the Hartz IV recipient

Poor people have to be told again and again that they are ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’. They are stigmatized, partly serving up clichés that are centuries old.

That also leads to psychological problems, “if you always have to justify yourself and explain why you’re not a ‘shirker’, ‘lazybones’ or ‘social parasite’,” explains Butterwegge.

Those affected also report such experiences on Twitter.

In general, the poor are more likely to be affected by diseases. This has intensified again in the corona pandemic. “People who are poor are more likely to die,” he says. “The poor had a higher risk of infection and a higher risk of death during the Covid-19 pandemic. Because their working and living conditions were simply worse.”

For example, the poor would have stood on the assembly line or lived as refugees in communal accommodation, had jobs to which they had to travel by bus or train. The wealthy, on the other hand, could mostly work from home or drive to the office and were therefore more protected.

The Cologne professor also deals with all the effects of the Covid pandemic on poverty and wealth, on inequalities, in his new book “The Polarizing Pandemic”, which will be published next week.

Systemic failure?

Twitter users are now declaring that it is not their own fault, but that the political system is responsible for poverty.

Butterwegge also criticizes the political handling of the issue of poverty. He has long observed that those responsible for politics promote social inequality instead of reducing it and strengthening social cohesion. This was also evident during the pandemic.

Food prices have already risen as a result of the corona pandemic. This situation has been exacerbated by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

The poverty researcher criticizes that groups of people who are regarded as top performers are again receiving support, for example taxpayers in the energy price flat-rate who do not receive trainees, students and pensioners. “The population groups that were poor even before the pandemic received hardly any aid.”

Personal stories that want to be heard

Even those who are not affected turn on Twitter and show solidarity. They demand that politics on not ignoring the topic.

They demand that those affected who open up on the social network be heard.

Because behind the tweets are people who have individual stories – and they want to be heard:

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